10 Pivotal Factors That Will Decide FIFA World Cup 2014 Group F
The 2014 FIFA World Cup has thrown up an interesting collection of teams in the form of Group F, linking Argentina, Nigeria, Iran and Bosnia & Herzegovina together.
That's a continental heavyweight, a revamped nation, a debutant and a veritable minnow all in one table. How will it play out?
We've taken a look at 10 pivotal factors that will effect who qualifies, who doesnt and why. It's got a bit of everything, and it's an exeptionally intriguing group.
Lionel Messi is yet to truly make his mark on the FIFA World Cup.
In 2006, aged 18, he was a bit-part player. In 2010, he was continually denied goals by superlative goalkeeping. Gonzalo Higuain swept home all of the rebounds to bolster his tally.
He enters the 2014 edition at a prime age (26) on his home continent. His perceived "poor" season resulted in 33 goals, per Soccerway, and he's primed to delight the world in Alejandro Sabella's clever 4-3-3.
The time is now for Messi to cement his status as the world's greatest player.
Argentina are the only team in Group F who will enjoy the benefits of the home (native) continent, and while most of the squad play their club football in Europe, they spent two years qualifying for the tournament and playing in South America.
It's a factor that stretches the Albiceleste's advantage from big to sizable, and with that brings added expectation that Alejandro Sabella's men will canter to the knockout stages.
Bosnia & Herzegovina are the sole debut country present at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and the fans back home are ridiculously excited.
Edin Dzeko recently outlined to B/R's Greg Johnson how proud he was of representing his country, leading them to the finals and sealing the title of national top scorer.
Some have BIH down as a dark horse to go much further than expected, but what if the opposite happens? Better nations have suffered from stage fright, and for the Dragons to exit at the group stage would be catastrophic.
All Offense, No Defence?
Bosnia & Herzegovina have a stunning attacking lineup.
Edin Dzeko and Vedad Ibisevic tore the World Cup qualifiers apart. The team scored 30 overall with these two combining for more than half (18).
Miralem Pjanic's breakout year with Roma has given the midfield fresh creativity, while Senad Lulic is a force on the left.
What about the defence?
The anticipated starters are Mensur Mujdza (rotational for Freiburg), Ermin Bicakcic (recently relegated with Braunschweig), Emir Spahic (ageing) and Sead Kolasinac (raw).
That's got to be a concern going the other way.
Iran's Age-Old Fitness Concerns
Much of the Iranian squad picked by Carlos Queiroz is domestically based, and while that's usually a strong sign for bigger nations, it's a negative for the bottom feeders.
The standard of play in the Iran Pro League is quite poor, with many of the players based in it housing sub-par levels of fitness. The durability of Iran's national sides have always been a concern, and this year looks to be no different.
They start well but fade badly against better-conditioned nations. That could end their dreams early on.
Iran's Defensive Trap
Argentina are expected to win Group F, while Bosnia & Herzegovina and Nigeria both have a reasonable shot at qualifying.
Iran are seen as the whipping boys of the group, but during the Asian qualifying phases, they proved they're a tough nut to crack.
There's a chance the Persian Stars will be king-makers in this group. The odds are that one of the three nations set to play them will come unstuck against their defensive, tough football.
Iran will defend deep, counterattack and never overcommit.
The Nigerian Football Association
Nigeria are ticking along rather nicely under Stephen Keshi, so much so that B/R's Jonathan Wilson nominated him the tactical genius of 2013.
Keshi has built a young side around talents such as Ogenyi Onazi and Kenneth Omeruo, and in the process dropped regulars Joseph Yobo and Obafemi Martins.
Unfortunately, despite his excellent work in restoring the Super Eagles to top-dog status in Africa and winning the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, the Nigerian Football Association continue to undermine his position by demanding older players be reinstated to the lineup.
Despite his undoubted and obvious success, his position has been considered tenuous for some time.
Nigeria are good, but they could implode at any moment.
Young Talents Go Either Way
Ogenyi Onazi and Kenneth Omeruo are just two in a long list of young Nigerians making an impression at the top level for their country. Sunday Mba, Godfrey Oboabona, Ahmed Musa and more are in Stephen Keshi's squad. Many had a role to play in the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.
Away from home soil, on the biggest stage in world football, can they keep the same measure of calm to their game?
John Obi Mikel will be one of few veterans to guide them along, and the importance of the safe-handed Vincent Enyeama behind the defensive line cannot be overstated.
Nigeria look a boom-or-bust-esque entity going into the finals.
Defensive Conservatism Gone Mad
Iran will defend, Nigeria will take it slow and Bosnia & Herzegovina may overthink it all and temper their approach as well. There's already a dominant feeling among Dragons fans that Vedad Ibisevic will drop to the bench, with Safet Susic opting to play one up top.
If that happens, we could well have Argentina viciously attacking three sides determined to sit in and keep it tight until the moment comes to attack.
For BIH, that's a tragic turn of events, and Nigeria too must open out and use their offensive pieces to break teams down properly.
If not, one of those two will exit with a whimper, freeing up qualification for the other.
Battle of the Flanks
Iran and Bosnia & Herzegovina have a weakness at both full-back spots, while Nigeria and Argentina lack star quality at one of theirs too.
All four teams have strong options on the wings, though, with the talent ranging from Victor Moses to Ashkan Dejagah to Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero.
All four teams will be looking to work the flanks and the left- and right-backs are in for a really torrid time this summer. Whichever sides create the best overloads and chances will do so by utilising the wings.